We tell ourselves stories in order to live.
― Joan Didion

What unpredictable things would you feel lost without . . . tangible items that most often have little value except to those who know the stories behind them? I recently asked friends this very question about “prized possessions.” Brief but beautiful, honest descriptions filled my Facebook comment stream. And why did I ask? One, it’s for an upcoming story and two, I had been spurred by something I read or overheard, I can’t even remember now, but an idea that lingered as I considered my own list—family photos, delicate mementos of my daughter’s childhood, the first note my husband wrote me (long before he was my partner), a worry Buddha statue and books. One in particular that sits on the bookcase above my desk, sometimes dusty but never forgotten, is a signed copy of Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays.

A story that stays with you long after you’ve gobbled up those last delicious crumbs of perfect sentences, raw emotion, and haunting, flawed characters, Play It As It Lays heightens your appreciation for literature and great writing, pushing writers like me to pay more attention and to write fearlessly, even when it hurts.

Didion’s appearance at the Union Square Barnes & Noble last year ranks at the top of my best moments list. Although fragile and small, Didion grew larger than life as she talked writing, reading and loss, a topic of her two most recent memoirs. I took photos and jotted down notes, hanging on every word, trying hard to capture them all like fireflies in a jar. But then I stopped . . . I simply savored the moment and listened, comforted in the knowledge that years from now I’ll open my book and hear Didion taking over the pages, retelling the story.